Picture this – your class reunion is a mere two months away and you desperately want to lose 30 pounds. You’re firmly committed, you’ve already started a diet and you’re genuinely excited about showing off that svelte body to your former classmates.
All is going well. Until… until there is a celebration at work and Roxanne brings in her famous triple layer, double fudge, ooey-gooey chocolate cake. Your favorite chocolate cake. All thoughts of the class reunion fly out the window, and you grab a slice. Or two.
Why did you do that?
Rationally, you knew that it was not the long-term decision you wanted to make, but in the heat of the moment all you wanted was chocolate cake.
How To Resist Chocolate Cake
David Eagleman, author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain simplifies the process by explaining it this way. Think of your brain as having two main systems, the rational system, which is systematic, analytical and reasons out the pros and cons regarding external events. The other system is your emotional system which is automatic, intuitive, reactive and impulsive.
Two systems. One brain. One piece of cake.
So when you are unexpectedly faced with a double fudge temptation, your impulsive emotional system leaps in, grabs the cake and the battle is lost.
How could this have gone differently?
The Ulysses Contract
In ancient mythology, Ulysses, hero of the Trojan war had a rare opportunity to hear an irresistible song. During an upcoming sea voyage his ship would be sailing past the island inhabited by the mesmerizing but deadly Sirens. Any sailor who heard their song immediately steered their direction to hear more but when they did their ships were quickly dashed against the rocks.
Ulysses wanted to hear the song (his end goal) yet survive the journey (resist temptation).
He came up with a unique plan. Prior to sailing past the island, the rational Ulysses instructed his sailors to tie him to the mast of the ship before the Sirens began to sing. He then insisted that the sailors ignore him no matter how hard he (the emotional Ulysses) begged to be freed.
It was hard. But it worked.
Ulysses planned ahead and used his rational brain to rein in his impulsive emotional side.
People use this strategy all the time when they join Christmas Clubs, sign contracts or let the IRS take out more money than they owe in hopes of a bigger tax return. They lock themselves into a firm plan in advance so they will resist temptation when it comes.
Now, let’s take a minute to rewind the class reunion scenario to see how you can use these brain techniques to help you accomplish your goal.
Your class reunion is only two months away and you still have 30 pounds to lose. You really want to look great at this important event.
All is going well until you remember that there is going to be a celebration at work tomorrow. There is always tempting food, and there is a rumor going around that Roxanne may even bring her triple-layer, double-fudge, ooey-gooey chocolate cake.
Trouble lies ahead.
Recalling your commitment to attending the class reunion, your rational system decides to make a plan in advance of the event so that your emotional side won’t give into any tantalizing temptations.
You brainstorm a few of your options. You could…
- ask a coworker to hold you accountable to not eat any sweets.
- eat lunch before the celebration to minimize temptation.
- promise yourself a trip to the store after work as a reward for resisting any goodies.
- skip the celebration all together. Your office has them all the time, and it’s really no big deal.
Whichever option you choose, your premade plan will help your rational mind to kick into gear and keep you committed to your goal.
You have successfully managed to use the brain God created to temper temptation.
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
I Corinthians 10:13